There’s change at the top of Shaftesbury’s branch of The Children’s Society. Alfred’s Keri Jones heard why the group’s chairman feels so passionately about the work of the charity that helps disadvantaged children.
Last Tuesday, Chris Jones stood down after a decade at the helm of the local committee of fundraisers. “It’s time for a change that’s for sure. At my age it’s time I handed over to somebody who is a bit more active and switched on and in tune with IT and that sort of thing,” said Chris. The group’s new chairman is Long Cross resident John Massink.
As Chris reflects on his ten years in the role, he says he is proud that his team of Shaftesbury fundraisers has generated thousands of pounds for the charity. He adds that he’s enjoyed working with the committee. “We have all got on,” said Chris. “We’ve all been pushing in the same direction and cooperating. I think that’s been one of the most satisfying aspects.”
When Chris was first approached and asked to join the society, he says he researched its activities and was impressed by the way they operated. “The society has been going for a long time and has evolved. It’s always looking to pastures new,” said Chris. “It started running children’s homes and then graduated on to training specialist people to help runaway children re-join their families. It is now looking at legislation – for instance 18-year-olds leaving care are really cut adrift. The society is helping them. I think the imaginative evolution of the society is very attractive.” The Children’s Society is now acting, in part, as a watchdog and campaigning organisation.
Shaftesbury is only a small town, which means the fundraising potential can be limited by the size of the population. Conversely, there’s a lot going on locally. Chris says Shaftesbury presents a challenge for committees when recruiting new helpers. “It’s small and friendly, therefore people are very supportive, but it’s not that easy to get people to join because there are so many things in Shaftesbury that people are asked to join. The range of activities is extraordinary,” he said.
Nevertheless, Chris has found locals to be highly supportive of the cause. “There’s no question, whether we are on the street with our spring collection or in the summer when we were at the entrance to Tesco’s, it’s a pleasure to talk to people in Shaftesbury and they are very generous with their gift.”
I asked new chairman John Massink why he wanted to take on this responsibility. “I didn’t know I wanted it until Chris, who wasn’t bullying me, asked me a year ago if I would become involved with the society,” said John. “I’ve worked with children and young people throughout my professional career. I’ve always wanted to continue to do that. I have seen children suffer through neglect and poverty issues and through their mental health. So much is linked together with Chris’s request. With his nurturing and guidance, I was happy to accept it to help promote children’s welfare, mental health and reduce child poverty wherever we can.”
As a former mental health professional, John understands better than many people how the charity’s work can make a difference to the children that he might have ended up seeing as clients. “One of the things is helping children to have a voice of their own and to express their experiences, through the advocacy work that is done by the society to promote children’s needs,” said John.
He is pleased that children leaving care at eighteen now have phased in council tax payments. “They don’t start off with a lot of debt. There was a recent mental health week which highlighted awareness of children’s needs. There’s been a lot of training that the children society does to help awareness,” he said.
John says there is a genuine need for The Children’s Society’s work in and around Shaftesbury. “There are 68,000 children in Dorset. 23% of those live in poverty. Rural poverty is an issue. There are nearly 480 children in care in Dorset and 7,000 have been struggling with mental health,” said John, as he quoted Children’s Society statistics. “There is more than an opportunity to be able to raise funds through the Children’s Society, to help both advocate for them and provide certain kinds of services to help alleviate these issues.”
Some national and regional causes have a highly visible presence around our town with their charity shops. The Children’s Society doesn’t have a shop, but John doesn’t see that as a disadvantage, and he points out that stores mean additional running costs. “While it’s really helpful to have that frontage, we’ve got social media and various publications we can use. Word-of-mouth is a brilliant thing in a small town as well,” he said.
John has plans for the society. Some committee members have served for over thirty years and he wants to introduce some new members who will bring fresh ideas and thinking. “If we can bring the average age down without losing anybody who wants to be part of the committee, that would be brilliant.”
He wants to recruit more volunteers. “For street collections and the different events we have during the year, it would be great if anybody listening would like to be part of that. Everybody is on the same page in terms of the motivation for this. It’s one of the few committees I’ve been part of where there is positive and purposeful humour,” smiled John.
John isn’t looking for specific skills from his new recruits. “Anybody who feels that they can be involved in any practical kind of way or are good in organising or simply motivated to support children and young people. That covers virtually anybody,” he said.
The new chairman says we should expect to see more of The Children’s Society around Shaftesbury over the forthcoming year. He wants to increase the organisation’s profile and to host more events. “I think that has been the ambition of the committee all along and it has got really strong foundations now. It’s about building on that and, as we can have more volunteers, there’s the potential for other activities to increase.”
If you would like to get in touch with John, please email email@example.com.